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Editorial: Us and them

With only days left to agree on a city budget, the rhetoric is growing increasingly heated and divisive. For a host of reasons the city's union leaders have been unable to reach an agreement with City Hall that could save hundreds of union jobs.

Although the union leaders make six-figure incomes, they like to see themselves as champions of the working class in a battle with the billionaire mayor. Arthur Cheliotes, president of the Communications Workers of America Local 1180, said Bloomberg is unwilling to tax the city's richest population. Cheliotes, a Baysider, said the mayor "has raised sales tax on toilet paper but did not consider restoring the tax on stock transfers. He instead chooses to burden working people with property taxes and sales taxes."

Cheliotes would like you to believe that only the rich own stocks, even though he knows that the city's pension funds are heavily invested in the stock market. He also knows that the city's economy is directly linked to the fortunes of Wall Street. It would be foolish to impose any tax that would slow the recovery of the stock market.

Not to be outdone, Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin (D-Flushing), who also serves as president of the Central Labor Council, said the mayor "was not a bully, but he had no problem bullying people who earn $30,000 a year."

Hundreds of men and women have already lost their jobs. This would be a good time for the city's labor leaders to can the divisive rhetoric and get back to the bargaining table.

Editorial: Mixed message on drugs

In early June some of the biggest stars in the hip-hop community came to City Hall to protest the Rockefeller Drug Laws. The laws, which were passed 30 years ago, mandate harsh sentences of 15 years or more in prison for persons caught with as little as 4 ounces of cocaine.

The rally led by Russell Simmons of Queens, the head of Def Jam records and the Hip Hop Summit Action Network, included speeches by Andrew Cuomo, also of Queens, and rap stars Sean "P Diddy" Combs and Jay Z. Much of what they said rings true. The law has impacted disproportionately on blacks and Hispanics. It is said that more than 80 percent of the state's prison population comes from 10 precincts in New York City.

There are countless examples of people arrested for the first time who were sentenced to as much as 30 years in prison. Defendants confessing to murder often get a better deal.

A reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws is long overdue. Judges should have the power to use discretion and to apply leniency when there is a reasonable expectation that a person could turn his or her life around.

But the legislature should think twice before agreeing to repeal the drug laws. Prosecutors have found that the draconian Rockefeller Drug laws give them leverage in going after major drug dealers. Defendants are routinely given the chance to plead guilty to attempted possession of a controlled substance, allowing them to escape the mandatory sentence, in return for help in getting to the insulated leadership of a drug gang.

The Rockefeller Drug laws have often been unfair and cruel. But the violent drug culture that permeates many neighborhoods of New York is a far greater problem.

Different board, same bull

Here we go again. And again. And again. It's the same tire old song at community boards in every corner of Queens. A community activist comes to the microphone to complain about the growing number of group homes in a given neighborhood, most often they are referring to homes that serve moderately retarded adults.

This time the debate over group homes was held at a town-hall-style meeting in Laurelton run by Community Board 13. Kim Francis, president of the Concerned Citizens, asserted there are just "too many" in Community Board 13.

The pattern is familiar. The activist wants the board to vote thumbs down on plans to open a group home in his or her neighborhood. The activist will argue that the neighborhood in question is already "saturated" with public facilities. A neighborhood can claim it is saturated if it can show that it is host to a disproportionate number of group homes. But wait! If, as it appears, every community is "saturated," then the term itself, which in this context is relative, becomes meaningless.

After claiming the indefinable saturation, the opponents of group homes make a point about how much they really care for the people in group homes and worry about their safety.

Inevitably they claim that the community facilities have a negative impact on property values. But they never back up this claim with numbers. It's the kind of lie that gains credibility through repetition.

Last month CB 13 voted against putting a group home on 25th Street in laurelton. The group homes for moderately retarded adults give people a chance to enjoy a meaningful life. The track record for these homes in Queens has been outstanding. They deserve the community's complete support.

Editorial: Save the Catalpa Y

Despite the gloomy weather and even gloomier economy, the people of Ridgewood had something to cheer about last week when Borough President Helen Marshall announced that a deal had been reached to save the Catalpa YMCA - at least for one more year.

The Y serves thousands of children living in western Queens but officials said they could no longer afford to keep the facility open. In a show of unity, the local elected officials worked to find the funding that would keep the Y open at least until the end of 2004. In exchange for $300,000 in funding, the YMCA agreed to keep the center open until 2004 and promised to sell the property to an organization that would provide service to the community.

The Queens borough president said she will form a committee that will search for a "suitable organization that will step into and take over all of the youth, adult and family programs in the YMCA."

This is quite and accomplishment, especially at a time when funding is drying up on every level. We believe this is money that will be well spent. Kids and their families need a place to channel their boundless energy in a positive direction.

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